Written by: Badal Sircar Directed by: Nilanjan P. Cahudhury
The richness of our regional language theatre was in full display in Centre for Film and Drama production of this little-known Badal Sircar gem directed by Nilanjan Choudhury, staged in original Bengali at Yavanika on October 18. Any Sircar play is a masterclass in the craft of theater and this was no exception. Originally written for non-proscenium Third Theatre, Bogola Charit Manas is as inventive as it can get, with two sutradhars dressed in wedding-band reds, a blue fairy leaping out of a cigarette-lighter flame, a slapstick brawl instigated by the invisible fairy and a rambunctious dance finale involving the entire cast.
But where Choudhury scores is in not letting the high-octane entertainment drown the soul of the play. Bogola is a character we have come across in many Hollywood and Bollywood potboilers. An orphan brought up in his maternal uncle’s home, ridiculed by his schoolmates for his unusual name, exploited by his domineering mama-mami, lacking in self-confidence; he goes through a process of transformation when he decides to run away with just twenty-eight rupees and fifty paisa in his pocket.
The sophistication of Sircar’s writing lies in how he brings out the unstated code that drives Bogola’s actions, making this unheroic character worthy of our love and empathy. Bogola is willing to go through all the torments as long as he knows he is earning his keep by the lowly housework he does and the tuition that he gives to his cousin. But the moment it is proposed that he becomes a ghar-jamai of a rich family, his entire being rebels; for then he will lose his dignity and integrity which he has never compromised through all his travails. It is also why he is determined to find a job for himself when he could have easily lived on the magical powers of the blue fairy.
So what does it take to transform our diffident selves into world-conquering knights? The ability to say ‘saala’ with all the aggression at our command, a benign mentor and the loving muse of a blue fairy – the play seems to suggest.
Choudhury does well to meld the real-world and fairy tale elements of the play seamlessly to present a thoroughly coherent and engaging narrative. There are inspired touches like the blue fairy emerging out of a flame and the interviewers in dark suits and sunglasses. The contemporary touches that he introduces in the lines play out well and the production values are top-class.
But above all, it is the performances that make the play soar. Right from the sutradhar duo alternating between Sanskritised Bengali and street slang to the East Bengali dialect-speaking mama and the broom-welding mami, the two schoolmates who torment Bogola ( also doubling as the drunken duo who torment the mama), and the jovial mentor; the supporting cast is pitch perfect. Aniruddha Roy as Bogola anchors the play with a sincere performance, taking us into the innermost crevices of Bogola’s soul even as we are laughing at his stuttering mumbles, his bulky frame running counter to what we would expect of such a loser. And what can one say of Swati De as Neela, the blue fairy? She dances straight into the audience’s hearts, leaping out of the flame with those seductive item dancer’s moves and infusing nuances into the portrayal of what could have easily turned into a one-note character. She flutters her lashes, latching on to every word that Bogola utters, and cracks everyone up with her Urdu-Bangla prattle and rhyming incantations, bringing the house down with ‘ Yeh ladka hai Allah, Ashtaq Firrullah, Najma Heptullah.’
Yes, it is a modern-day fairy tale, and unabashedly so, never failing to charm us through its ninety minutes of playing time.
(This was originally published in the Bengaluru edition of The Hindu.)
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